Fresh Blood

Name: Matthew Dunn

Title of Book: Spartan

'... if you love high octane action and want to read a 'movie-on-the-page' then I would advise giving ‘Spartan’ a go.'

Will Cochrane is ‘Spartan’, a ‘super-human soldier’, specially trained to get the job done quickly and without leaving a trace behind. Will is given the mission to flush out ‘Megiddo’ – a man who had a great presence in Bosnia and now is strongest and most feared man in Iran. Now there is a new way of getting the man to come out of the shadows and into the open. Lana Beseisu knew Megiddo from Sarajevo and is the only woman who can identify the man himself. To make their plan work, Will needs to put Lana straight into the firing line of the man they are after.

Travelling from country to country, Megiddo appears to be leading Will a merry dance as his lack of appearance frustrates Cochrane and his well-laid plans. And then Will learns something new about the man he is chasing – and the fact that their paths are inexorably linked makes the chase even more personal for Will Cochrane.

This is the first thriller from an ex-MI6 operative, dealing with what he knows best in a nail-biting thriller that grabs you from the first page. Will Cochrane is a killing-machine and the body count is already mounting from Chapter One when the action starts in New York’s Central Park.

You can see that Dunn draws on his past experience to give his readers a rip-roaring thriller that really does grip you by the throat. In essence, ‘Spartan’ reads a bit like a modern version of the film ‘300’: a lot of Alpha males running around beating their chests and killing people with any weapon that comes to hand.

Opinion is divided on ‘Spartan’ and I realise that the writing can at times be clunky, but this is something a writer can grow into and perfect. If you’re looking for a ‘le Carre’ type of novel where the nature of the spy is more cerebral than throwing themselves out of windows, etc then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you love high octane action and want to read a 'movie-on-the-page' then I would advise giving ‘Spartan’ a go. This type of book is not my usual fare, so I feel I can give an unbiased view. I really enjoyed ‘Spartan’ and although I am certain that the action was speeded up for dramatic effect I thought this was a very promising start to what I feel, with a bit more polishing, could become a very popular series indeed. Lee Child has a splash blurb on the front cover – and he may now well have to make room for Matthew Dunn now he’s on the scene!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) How would you classify your writing, and do you consciously try to write to a certain style or genre?
I didn’t consciously try to write in a certain style. I’ve been told that my style is “muscular”, “bold”, “direct”, and “logical”, though I simply write the way I want to tell my stories. Of course, my writing does reflect the requirements of the genre I’m working in. Thus, there are moments when one can be a little more expansive, and moments where everything must cut to the chase.

If there are any influences on my writing style, they probably derive from the adventure and thriller novels I read as a boy – books where storytelling and plot were key, where modern-day cynicism were wholly absent. I guess, therefore, I have a style of writing that derives from older writers.
2) What type of crime novels do you like to read? Do you prefer series or standalone?
Irrespective of genre, one of my all-time favourite collections of stories is Arthur Conan Doyle’s complete works of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the works but I do know that time and time again I’ve returned to Holmes’ London as much for the pleasure of being in his world as reading about his detection of crime.

I like both series and standalones, though a series with a recurring central character always grabs my interest. Crime novels are one of the best genres at coupling characterisation with drama, thrills, and horror. With a series, it’s usually a fascinating process to watch a character develop, and to see how he or she will cope with each new challenge.
3) You are a former MI6 senior operative. Did a lot of your past experiences find their way in to your novel?
My past experience as an MI6 operative certainly inspires my storytelling. I know what it feels like to be alone on a mission, to feel apprehension as one enters a new country, to always be on your guard, to face unexpected hostile situations, to deal with things when they go wrong, and to succeed and fail. When writing Spartan, I always asked myself “What would I have done in this situation?”

I’m now a writer first, an ex-spy second. I tell stories that are derived from my imagination. In my experience and the experience of other operatives, real things have happened that are similar to some of the things Will Cochrane faces in Spartan. But I have intensified matters for the benefit of storytelling, and put my protagonist into constantly worsening situations that most mortals – MI6 or otherwise - would struggle with.

That said, real espionage is all about the art of the impossible. Will Cochrane personifies the mindset on an MI6 field operative. There is a big difference between the “reality” of the work of a spy and what is perceived as “realism” by individuals who’ve never worked in the secret world.
4) Will Cochrane has gone through some intense training to become the one-man killing machine. Is he based on anyone you knew personally?
His character, emotions, and decision-making are based on the man I used to be. Like Cochrane, I and certain other operatives had to go through some very intensive training.
5) Spartan’ flits from one location to another in rapid succession. Did travel play a huge part in your experiences or is the changing scenery to keep the action flowing?
As an operative, I travelled extensively. It was exhausting. I’ve had moments where I was almost constantly travelling from one country to the next over three month periods within which I could be travelling to two or three countries in one day. So, Spartan’s travel is a true reflection of the nature of the job. That reality, however, does help keep the story moving.
6) Are we going to learn more about Will’s past as the novels progress? Will we learn more about his mother’s murder?
Yes, I intend to reveal more about his character and background over the course of the series. His mother’s murder is seemingly a random criminal act, but it is not.
7) When the ‘Cold War’ ended many said the spy novel was finished. Why do you think the spy novel is having a renaissance and now more popular than ever?
For obvious reasons, very few people know what really goes on in the world of espionage. The reality was that after the end of the Cold War, it was business as usual as far as organisations like MI6 and the CIA were concerned. But the appetite for spy novels rapidly diminished because readers mistakenly thought we no longer had any covert enemies, or certainly none that were worthy to being put into fiction. Spy novels can be as fantastical as they like, but they still must be grounded by current dangers that are visible to those outside of the secret world and those dangers have be exotic and engaging.

I think we now live in a moment of our history where fear is all around, where violence and death occur in unexpected places, where the correct courses of action are not always easily defined, where we are well-informed but confused. It is human nature to want to make sense of things going on in the world, particularly things that affect us. I think many people now regard their spy agencies as the ultimate force to combat organised evil, whether hidden or visible. In tandem, they believe that these agencies hold the answers to the human complexities within our globe. To a large extent, they are right and that has produced a rejuvenated fascination with the likes of MI6 and in turn an appetite for spy fiction.
8) MI6 requested the manuscript when they knew you had submitted a novel. Were you concerned whilst writing ‘Spartan’ not to provoke your ex-employers?
I didn’t want to provoke them but more important than that I didn’t want to put anything into the book that could compromise MI6, its operatives, foreign agents, and operations. When there are breaches of security, people can die.
9) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
While not movies, I loved the 1970s/80s British television dramas of Sherlock Holmes and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy/Smiley’s People (respectively starring Jeremy Brett and Sir Alec Guinness). I’m looking forward to the new Tinker Tailor movie starring Gary Oldman as I’ve heard great things about it. I also loved The Day of the Jackal starring Edward Fox – it looks a bit dated now, but in its time it captured the essence of the book very well.

I’ll probably wake up tonight, kicking myself for forgetting another five or ten great movie adaptations of crime novels, and almost certainly some of those will be from the States.
10) Without giving away the plot, which book included your favourite plot twist of all time?
I love the twists in Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme novels. Deaver is a master at misdirection. There have been some great twists in movies as well – The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, Seven, Psycho, Planet of the Apes, and The Village to name a few.

If they can be carried off, twists are great, though they can produce a negative fallout. Some people will want to say they spotted the twist coming (even if they did not) and in turn they sometimes try to reinforce that by disparaging the movie or book.
11) What is your ultimate favourite read crime of all time?
I still get a buzz when I read the first sentences of Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet because I know that for the next few weeks or months I’ll be living in Sherlock Holmes’ residence in 221b Baker Street. Without doubt, there are better written and smarter crime novels out there compared to each individual Holmes story, but put all of Doyle’s detective works together and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.